By James Atkinson

Bankwest executives have rejected claims that the bank callously and unnecessarily forced any pubs into receivership, telling the Federal Senate inquiry into the banking sector that there are "two sides to every story".

As the inquiry drew to a close on Friday, Senator John Williams grilled Bankwest executives on why they allegedly sent receivers in on pubs owned by hoteliers like Geoffrey Reiher, "who've never had an overdraft, who'd never missed a payment."

"I find that concerning unless he's not telling the truth," Senator Williams said.

"He says he'd never missed a payment. Is he telling the truth?"

At the bank's request, the inquiry later moved to an 'in camera' hearing to discuss some of the individual testimonies and written submissions put by publicans and other witnesses.

But Bankwest chief executive Ian Corfield told the open inquiry: "It's absolutely not in the interests of the bank to be calling in receivers, which is why we do it in such a small percentage of cases."

"It's absolutely in our interests and of course in the interests of the customer, to try and make sure we get to a point where we trade our way out of any difficulties," Corfield said.

Of the allegation by Queensland publican Ralph Binks that Bankwest appointed receivers on his venues two days before settlement of refinancing with Westpac, Corfield said there were "two sides to every story".

"I would be amazed if we sent the receivers in two days before a refinance was going to be happening," he said.

"We work extensively with our customers to try and remediate problems, we've got a large and dedicated team that work with those customers."

Senator Williams also questioned Bankwest on other issues, including their policies on charging customers default interest.

"How does this help to get people out of trouble when you double or treble the interest rate on them?" he asked.

In a final rebuke, Senator Williams told the beleaguered bank it had work to do to repair its reputation with Australians, given some of the reports about how it has treated businesses who have hit hard times.

"Would you please be gentle with them and give them some breathing space and help them through it, instead of some of the cases we've heard of?" he said.

"Civility costs nothing. I think you can pick your reputation up rapidly by being more civil with your customers."

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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